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Nikon D3100 or Nikon D90 - Which one to buy?

corolla corolla , Nov 29, 2010; 07:53 a.m.


I have a dilemma and would appreciate if anyone here can help me. Until a couple of weeks ago I was a proud owner of a Nikon D60 but unfortunately I was burgled so now I have to think about buying another camera. I was comparing the new on the market Nikon D3100 with the Nikon D90. I am starting to get a bit confused on what I should consider between the 2. I made some research and apparently, the D3100 is an entry level camera (like the one I owned before) while the D90 is more of an advanced-level camera.

What’s a bit confusing for me however is the fact that the D3100 has better mega pixels over the D90 (12M vs 14M respectively) and also has a better ISO compared to the D90 as well, and at the same time it’s much cheaper! Both cameras have a video but it seems that the D3100 produces a better quality HD video. However the “video thing” is not an issue to me as I’m after photographic specs rather than video specs. But as said before, the D90 is 50% more expensive with 2 years older technology than the D3100!

My problem here is whether to stay on the entry level and get the D3100 or whether to move on to “apparently” the next step and get the D90. Both cameras seem to be an upgrade when compared to my “old D60” but I’d like to know what is the best option considering the points mentioned above and also the price? Considering the D3100 has better specs than the D90 (at least as I’m seeing it), why there is so much difference in price? I mean, is the 50% more expensive camera being the D90, worth buying when compared to the “more spec’ed” D3100? As argued above, at least as regards megapixels, ISO & vidoe quality comparisons, it’s not. This is very strange for me and I’m really confused. There are certainly good reasons to justify this difference in price but would appreciate if someone can tell me what are the reasons and why I should go for the D90 rather than the D3100 considering both are within my budget.
What more could the D90 give me over the D3100? which one should I consider to buy?

Both camera prices are within my budget so any help will be greatly appreciated before I take a final decision.

And another thing: I also had the Nikkor 18-55mm VR and the Nikkor 55-200mm VR on my other camera. Should I re-purchase the same two lenses or should I go to the latest 18-200mm VR lens which most of the D90's are coming out with? Does it really change anything having 2 lenses in one? What are the pros and cons of buying one single lens (apart from the price) ?

Looking forward for your comments.

Thanks a lot.



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Peter Hamm , Nov 29, 2010; 08:17 a.m.

First... if you don't need the ability to drive old-style AF lenses (screwdrive), and can live with the limitations of the very small D3100 (too small for my hands, but ymmv), the lack of a top display (I use this a lot, but would I miss it? not so sure) and without CLS flash control (I use this sometimes and love it, but could probably live without it truth be told), then maybe skip the D90.

Also, the D3100 lacks DoF preview. I myself thought I would really love having it but almost never use it. Again, the big thing that would kill that camera for me (or something like the D5000 or the eventual D5100 or whatever) is the small size. It's just too small.

If you can stand lens changes, there are better options than the 18-200 (which I had and LOVED). For instance, a combo of a used 18-70 and refurb or used 70-300 VR would be about the same price as a new (or maybe even a used) 18-200. That combo will be, in my experience, about the same from 18-70 but much better from 70 on up.

If you are a snapshop/vacation photographer who never prints above 8 x 10 or never views photos except on the computer (a "growing" class of photographer... I myself print about 2% of my photos... even my good ones... above 5 x 7), and you must have a "one-lens solution"...

then skip the 18-200 and get a 16-85, cropping at the long end when necessary. The 16-18 range is more useful than the 85-200 range imho.

Hector Javkin , Nov 29, 2010; 08:18 a.m.

The D90 offers far better controls than the 3100. It has two control dials, so you don't have to hold down a button while changing either shutter speed or aperture, a better viewfinder, the capability to control off the camera flash, can be fired from Nikon's IR remote, etc. Perhaps most important, the D90 can autofocus with all Nikon autofocus lenses, while the D3100 can only autofocus with AF-S lenses, which can force you into more expensive alternatives. Two more MP on the D3100 give you very little additional resolution.

If you do not need the D3100's light weight and compactness, and can stand the difference in cost, the D90 is a far better camera, particularly now that its price has come down.

You asked about lenses. It depends what you want to do. I believe that you can buy an 18-55mm VR and a 70-300mm VR for about the cost of the 18-200mm VR. The 70-300mm VR is a tremendous value, so that if you would like an excellent telephoto zoom, it's a good choice. If you prefer to keep the same lens on the camera all the time, the 18-200mm is not a bad lens, although a little fragile for a lens which will be used frequently.

corolla corolla , Nov 29, 2010; 08:58 a.m.

Thanks a lot for your useful replies Hector & Peter....

More opinions/views/advice on the dilemma I have, will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance.


Anthony Rampersad , Nov 29, 2010; 09:15 a.m.

I bought the D90 earlier this year and given the price it was something of a stretch for me then. But, the reason why I decided to go with the D90 over an "entry-level" DSLR was because I wanted to take my photography further. The entry levels are fine if you're a vacation shooter with an eye for a good quality shot. I must say after experiencing the D90 I know now that I would definitely have had regrets if I had bought the entry level. In my opinion it doesnt make sense buying entry-levels just to get used to them then spend more to upgrade afterwards. And if you really love photography you WILL want to upgrade. Truth is, it doesnt take much time to learn the handlings of a decent DSLR. If you can afford it go for the D90 or equivalent, I believe the D7000 is now replacing the D90 but its quite a bit pricier.
On the lens, I currently have the 55-200mm lens and its great. However after getting to the 200mm end of the range (actually about 250mm on the D90 given the crop), I find myself wishing there was more. Nikon recently released a 55-300mm and I think its priced at around USD400 with VR technology. I would recommend going for that. In fact Im considering selling my 55-200mm and saving up to get the 55-300mm. But definitely stick with the 18-55mm as well. I think this lens is indispensable.

Carl Becker , Nov 29, 2010; 09:16 a.m.

Have you gone to a local camera store to check out the differences in person? Either should give better ISO performance if that is a need. Unless you print large I don't think you will see much difference if any from the mega pixel size difference. The D90 is larger and heavier, I perfer larger bodies as I have big hands. IMHO the control set of the D90 is better. I don't know about the viewfinder differences but I suspect the D90 is much nicer. For me the control set and viewfinder are priority items of the body if IQ is close. I am happy with 12x18 prints from 12 mega pixels.

Jorgen Udvang , Nov 29, 2010; 09:23 a.m.

Does it matter? I'm not sure. I have the same dilemma, since the D80 that I use as backup for the D300 is dying. The D90 is a better camera than the D3100 in most ways, but it's also larger and slightly less portable. Sometimes, that can mean the difference between taking the camera with you (and get the photo) and leaving it at home.
In any case, I think I would choose the 16-85. It's much better than the 18-55 or the 18-200, and the range is rather useful. Another alternative is the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8, which sits on my D80 most of the time. That's really a bargain of a lens. Both of those lenses are excellent combination with the Nikkor 70-300 VR (or the Tamron equivalent, which is very good too), and/or the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 for very wide shots.
Whatever you choose, the quality of the lenses is more important than the camera in most cases. It's your choice: portability vs. features and ergonomics.

Phil Burt , Nov 29, 2010; 09:23 a.m.

One always hears about putting their money in better lenses and that I find that to be true also. With your camera choices I would consider going with the D7000 over the D90 or 3100. It is the latest technology and will give you many years of great photo taking. It will drive most lenses that are out there.
I have a D90 and would only think of upgrading when it finally gives up taking photos. But that said if I didn't have a camera now I would elect to get the D7000 over the D90 mainly for the specs and newer technology. If because of budget controls then I would opt for the D3100 IF it felt good in my hands as it is a smaller camera.
Have fun making your choice and let us know what you finally choose and why. All of them will take some fine photos if you learn to drive it correctly.
phil b
benton, ky

Hans Janssen , Nov 29, 2010; 10:28 a.m.

D90 for the possibility of using AF and AFD lenses and you have something in your hands. Maybe the D3100 is alittle bit better, but so small.

William Pahnelas , Nov 29, 2010; 11:04 a.m.

sorry about your loss. as for choices: a lot depends on how many "features" you need/use in a camera. it's true the D90 has a lot more stuff than the D3100 (most of which have been noted above). from an images perspective, however, the D3100 seems to produce nicer photos than the old 12mp sony sensor in the D90. i have a D300, not a D90, but they use the same sensor. when i compare images from my D300 to those from my D3100, the noise-handling characteristics of the D3100 are clearly superior, IMO. i like the D3100 precisely for its small size and light weight. on the other hand, it is not as responsive as higher-end cameras. in some situations, more controls, and more direct access to controls, are more valuable than small size and less weight. you need to consider carefully what kind of photography you're interested in, and which kind of camera will better serve your interests. regardless of how you choose, your photos can look great using either body. the really important element is you.

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